POTSDAM -- With virtually the entire starting lineup back and 19 players returning overall, the Clarkson University Women's Soccer team is brimming with optimism about the 2014 season.
Allowing less than a goal per game over the course of the last three seasons (0.983 gaa), the Golden Knights look to combine that hard-nosed defensive effort and couple it with an increased offensive output to make a rapid rise up the Liberty League standings in the coming months and taking a significant step forward as a program under the guidance of fourth-year head coach Sarah Raymond.
The team kicked off its campaign with an overseas trip to Spain in August.
Clarkson is returning their strongest team to date, with all of last year's starters back for the Golden Knights. The senior class sees the return of outstanding keeper and captain, Kim Kenline (Akron, NY), dominant central player Aubrey Harris (Cicero, NY), captain and the engine room Ashley DeHond (Penfield, NY), captain and composed Taylor Abraham (Canandaigua, NY) and speedster Cailey Nieto (Chatham, NY).
"I know our seniors are going to be key in our success this coming year," Raymond remarked.
"This is the first group of players that I have now worked with for the past three years so they know what I am looking for and they also have the experience in the conference with knowing what is needed. They each bring tremendous qualities - hard work, commitment, leadership and experience. Individually each of them have key roles to play on the field and collectively, they are vital to our chemistry, direction and drive. I'm excited to see them lead by example and finish their Clarkson careers on a great note!"
The junior class, led by captain Anna Demasi (Colchester, VT), also sees some tremendous talent returning. Dani Felty (Marcellus, NY) brings composure and vision to the midfield. Megan Strijek (Schenectady, NY), Nikki Carfi (Liverpool, NY) and Demasi should play key roles in the team's offense. Unfortunately talented midfielder Christine Wright (Watertown, NY) underwent ankle surgery prior to the season so she is out for the year. Taylor Smith, one of Clarkson's former keepers will also be a huge asset to the team this year as she steps from playing ranks into an assistant coaching role.
"Our juniors have matured in the past year and are ready to make a difference in our attacking play," Raymond continued. "They have demonstrated real commitment to the program in the off-season training phase and will be huge contributors this year. Although we will miss Christine's presence on the field, her maturity and intelligence from the side will still be an asset and we look forward to her contributions in her senior year. Taylor is another player whose maturity and attitude is a huge bonus to our team environment. She has handled a career ending injury with class and is eager to step into the role of coaching our keepers so she can still be a significant part of our program."
The biggest class returning, the sophomores, sees 9 players coming back from last year's team - Kanoe Eichholz (Stratham, NH), Lauren Flynn (Andover, MA), Tori Sailor (Londonderry, NH), Rachel Loecher (Lancaster, NY), Sierra Spring (Saratoga Springs, NY), Bri Weber (Hilton, NY), Meggie Manzo (Beverly, MA), Olivia Chopskie (East Syracuse, NY) and Christina Pollard (Raymond, ME) plus the addition of Caitlin Swanson (Red Hook, NY), a Clarkson lacrosse player.
"I am expecting big things from our sophomores this year," Raymond said.
"They've had time to develop physically and come out of their shells. We are already seeing more confidence in their play and some key contributors are within this class. Kanoe has shown tremendous talent in the defensive midfield position and is a calming influence on the field. Lauren is our soccer junkie and her improvement at the forward position has been fun to watch. Caitlin has been a nice addition to this class and will help provide another attacking element while Meggie and Olivia bring a competitive drive to our midfield area. Rachel is a smart player who is very capable at the back and also brings a level of composure to our play from the back. Tori, Bri and Christina are all aggressive, athletic and quick players so I expect them to contribute in a variety of positions on the field. Sierra brings a tremendous amount of athleticism to the goal and is pushing our level up every day. I also saw some very good things from her play at the center back position in Spain so she may well find herself on the field as well!"
The 2015 freshmen class includes defender Courtney Black (Gilbertsville, PA), midfielder Paige Spittler (Plattsburgh, NY), midfielder Abby Gruneisen (Potsdam, NY), defender Meranda Turner (Colchester, VT) and forward Madison Kather (Amherst, NY).
"I am very excited about this group of freshmen. They have added already with their level of athleticism, their attitudes, their desire to compete and to learn. They are all anxious to play and contribute any way they can. They have impressed me with their composure and their ability to step straight in and compete, often in new positions. There is no question they have added to our depth and they should be competing for starting minutes very early on."